As promised on Monday, this week we’re looking at some more nuts-and-bolts stuff. This is probably revisiting familiar ground for most of you. Still, I like to write about the “I wish I’d known that” stuff sometimes.
So, let’s start with the thing that frustrated me the most training Silas, namely “Why won’t my dog just take the damned cookie?”
It turns out that this, too, depends on patience and seeing things from your dog’s perspective.
The number one reason a dog will refuse a training treat is stress. Think carefully about what you’re asking of your dog. If your dog is too overwhelmed to eat, do everything in your power to change that situation. If you’re too close to a scary object, back up. If the environment is too chaotic, find a quieter place. If your dog needs a minute to settle down, give him that minute. Once your dog is comfortable, you can try again. Not eating is an extremely important signal, especially if you have a dog who normally loves treats.
Also, consider the value you’re offering. How good would the salary need to be for you to work on someone else’s clogged toilet? Would you happily do that for minimum wage? Yeah, I didn’t think so. If you’re asking your dog to do something really hard, your pay had better be commensurate with the job. Some dogs love food so much that they’ll do anything for a piece of kibble. Some dogs, not so much. Most dogs will vary their preference based on environment, since environment alone can make an easy behavior into a hard one. (On the other side, some working dogs love their work so much that offering payment is kind of an insult, and their trainers have challenges coming up with ways to train new working behaviors.)
Think about these two things in conjunction with each other whenever you run into the dreaded cookie rejection: is the job absolutely too hard, or are the wages just too low?. You might clean that toilet for the right price, but you couldn’t walk outside and pick up your car, no matter what I offered to pay.
For some dogs and for some situations, a food “wage” will never be the thing, so tomorrow I’ll be posting a list of alternative rewards. In the meantime, what’s your dog’s going rate? Is your dog happy to work for a kibble, or are you over here on the “smells like liver” bench?